DID YOU KNOW that New York’s JFK Airport has its own synagogue?
In January of 1967, a small group gathered at HIAS President Murray Gurfein’s office at 655 Madison Avenue for a special ceremony. On behalf of United HIAS Service, Gurfein presented the Torah scroll of the Ellis Island Chapel to Charles H. Silver, President of the International Synagogue, and Rabbi Israel Mowshowitz, Chairman of the Board of the synagogue.
“Three million Jewish men, women and children have been assisted by United HIAS to resettle in free countries. For many of these people, the sight of this scroll was convincing evidence that they had at last found a place where they could practice their religion openly and fearlessly. We are pleased that at Kennedy Airport, which has replaced Ellis Island as the principal port of entry for immigrants, the Torah will continue to serve new arrivals of Jewish faith.”
What was it like for newly arrived refugees to celebrate Sukkot in freedom in America?
The HIAS photo collection contains one folder labeled Succoth. Inside are these three 8 x 10 prints depicting Sukkot preparations and celebrations, probably at the HIAS shelter at 425 Lafayette Street in Manhattan. Unfortunately, there are no dates on the photographs, nor any other descriptive information, but they appear to be from the late 1940s or early 1950s. HIAS used images such as these in publicity materials and publications such as annual reports.
Carolyn Agress served as the Director of Membership Services at HIAS beginning in 1989. She coordinated membership campaigns, working with board members to solicit contributions, and overseeing the details of multiple campaigns per year. These donations represented a key component of the organization’s budget.
This Yom Kippur, those of us working on the HIAS processing project take inspiration from Carolyn, whose integrity and professionalism shine clearly through the records.
In August 1961 Raphael Spanien, Deputy Director of HIAS headquarters in Paris, corresponded with Ann Petluck, at the time the Director of US Operations for HIAS in New York, about the difficulty in scheduling charter flight schedules, as well as travel by ship, for clients otherwise prepared to immigrate to the United States during the Jewish holidays in the fall of 1961.
“… I have tried to arrange an earlier booking in order that this family should not arrive on the first day of Succoth. The only possibility was an arrival Erev Yom Kippur. I think it is better … to arrive the first day of Succoth …”
Spanien reveals several things in the space of this two-page letter. First, that he is doing all he can to be respectful of his clients’ religious needs and also the urgency to complete their long transition to a more permanent home as soon as possible. He also reveals his personal limited first-hand knowledge of the holidays and when travel would be problematic for an observant family (and also for HIAS staff and volunteers in Europe and in the United States). The following sentence in particular is in its way charming, as well as illustrative of the logistics involved in booking passage, after the hard work of obtaining visas was completed:
… I really believe that to postpone these departure arrangements now would mean serious hardships for these families, since their tickets have been delivered and their baggage sent to the boat. Moreover, since the[y] arrive on the Friday preceding the second days of Succoth, I don’t really see any reason why this departure should now be changed. The Sunday, October 1st, being Hoshano Rabo, which by no means is a holiday, and as far as I remember the only obligation Jews have on this day is to ‘eat kreplach’, why can’t these people be entrained Saturday evening and arrive at their destination during the day of Sunday, Erev Shemini Azereth?
In closing the letter, Spanien also reveals how fond he is of Ann Petluck. By 1961 they would have worked together for at least a few years and possibly much longer. (Petluck had worked at the National Refugee Service (NRS) from at least 1943, continued at United Service for New Americans (USNA) when it took over NRS projects and staff in 1946, and then at HIAS when it took over USNA projects and staff in 1954.) Through all of these years HIAS held an annual Migration Conference which they both would have attended, and where they most likely met each other for the first time. Between conferences they communicated constantly on specific cases; they clearly worked hard to make the transition from a HIAS European transit office to HIAS care in the United States (or elsewhere) as easy as possible for their clients. Even in the post-war year of 1961 these clients might have been between permanent homes for months or years.
Those of us working on the HIAS archives project join Raphael Spanien in his traditional words (with the Ashkenazi pronunciation) at this High Holiday season:
… I don’t think that there will be any better opportunity for me to wish you and your family, your staff, and all our friends in New York a happy and healthy Year. Leshono tovu tikusevu …
We learned last week that Elaine Winik, life-long leader of United Jewish Appeal (UJA) of New York had died last Wednesday. Elaine was a major part of her family’s 4-generation involvement in UJA of New York. Elaine was known as a dynamic speaker and fundraiser* for UJA, a talent she first discovered when recruited to the local UJA ranks while living in Rye, NY in the 1940s, when her name was Elaine Siris. Elaine will also be remembered as a memorable story teller. An interview with Elaine in 2010 can be found here.
Some of us at the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS) first became acquainted with Elaine’s work while working on the UJA-Federation of New York archives. Elaine was the first woman to become president of UJA of New York, 1982-1984, just prior to the 1986 merger with the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies. Her oral history, part of the UJA-Federation oral history program, was digitized during our 4-year archives project to make the UJA-Federation of New York archives accessible in time for this year’s centennial. In addition, Elaine donated many of her albums and photographs to AJHS as part of the UJA-Federation collection. Information about this collection can be found here.
But what is the connection between Elaine Winik and HIAS? The only evidence of Elaine we have come across so far in the HIAS archives collection now being processed by AJHS, was a surprise. Evidently, Elaine and another leader from UJA of New York visited the HIAS office in Vienna in 1968. Read about the connection on the HIAS project blog.
We send our condolences to the entire Winik family.
* Pictured left to right in linked photograph: Alvin H. Einbender, David Brenner, Elaine K. Winik, Alan S. Jaffe, Peter W. May and Danny Aiello.
1995 marked HIAS’ 115th organizational anniversary, which included not only a larger-than-life Annual board Meeting, but various outings, tours, and galas to commemorate more than a hundred years of exceptional service to Jewish refugees around the world.
In the 1994 HIAS Annual Report, President Martin Kesselhaut and Executive Vice-President Martin A. Wenick remark how proud they are that their current mission statement has held strong over more than a century:
“HIAS instills in its clients a true patriotism and love for their adopted country and makes better known to the people of the United States the many advantages of legal immigration.”
HIAS accomplished quite a lot in 1994. They partnered with AT&T to fund production of a weekly television show produced by the Russian-American Broadcasting Company, initiated a national Citizenship Project which provided support to naturalization applicants, brokered partnerships with major corporations and Jewish communities as part of their National Corporate Initiative, and participated in their first-ever Leadership Mission to Washington.
For those involved on the Executive side of the organization, the Annual Membership Meeting was transformed from a traditional presentation-based form to one referred to as a ‘HIAS fair.’ This free-roam meeting format encouraged the Board to directly interact with the departmental staff, creating a personal dialogue to voice concerns, celebrate successes, and cooperatively brainstorm how each department could work together for a bigger and brighter fiscal year ahead.
For those on the membership side with some time to spend enjoying the city, HIAS organized two days of New York adventures.
Day 1 included:
Manhattan walking tour of notable New York Synagogues
Trip to Ellis Island, where HIAS representatives were once present to defend those in jeopardy of being deported and/or to accompany immigrants back to HIAS headquarters for shelter
Trip to Brighton Beach, which included a walking tour and dinner at a popular Russian restaurant
Tour of the Lower East Side, which included a Kosher lunch at Ratner’s
Day 2 was more centrally located at HIAS’ old headquarters, and included:
HIAS Scholarship presentations
Building tours of 425 Lafayette Street, HIAS’ home from 1921-1965
A group naturalization swearing-in ceremony
Annual Membership Meeting, including elections for 1995
Since 1995, HIAS has continued to grow and evolve in order to support those who need them most. We can’t wait to see what the next 10 years will bring!
Philip Bernstein was a Jewish communal professional for over sixty years, involved with numerous cultural, civic and philanthropic organizations. These included the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, the United Jewish Appeal-Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Joint Distribution Committee, the United Jewish Appeal, and the local and national offices of the Council of Jewish Federations (CJF), where he served from 1934 until his death in 1995. From 1967 until his retirement in 1979, Bernstein was the Executive Vice President of CJF. HIAS has long benefitted from CJF’s financial assistance to support its daily operations and special projects. At Bernstein’s retirement party on September 15, 1979, numerous well-wishers came together to celebrate his long career and all that he had done in the field of Jewish communal service.
The festivities included a musical revue tribute during which executives of national Jewish aid and immigration organizations, as well as CJF officers, sang a song about collaboration between the various national agencies.
Gaynor I. Jacobson, the Executive Vice President of HIAS at the time, was invited to take part but he objected to the original version of the song as HIAS was not included.
While it is not clear how serious his protest was, organizers changed one of the couplets in the song to include HIAS so that Jacobson would take part.